Xin chao, everyone! As you can guess, that means 'hello' in Vietnamese. To give you a bit of background: November 29th, 2017, I embarked on a 2 month trip to SE Asia with my guy and some friends. This, of course turned into a 3 month trip to planned and unplanned countries through Asia, including: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, & Indonesia. If any of you are reading this and hoping to gain some knowledge prior to your very own Asia trip then you're in luck! Lil tid bits and thoughts have been scribbled down below, I hope it's helpful to you in some way and you enjoy my documented travels.
Ok! Let's get started...
My trip started in Hoi An and continued via motorcycle to Hue, passing through small towns and coastal towns alike on the Hai Van pass. We then went from Hue to Hanoi and drove the Ha Giang Loop on a motorcycle tour. We then did a quick trip over to Halong Bay and back before departing to Thailand for the holidays.
Places we stayed: (that I can remember...)
- Hoi An - Hoa Binh Hostel
- Hue - Khe San Homestay
- Hanoi - Flipside Hostel
- A lot of times we ended up not booking hostels, walking into a city and winging it; generally some place should have availability, right? For us, it was a gamble of luck and poor planning.
Food to try (and where):
- Banh Mi (everywhere) — try Banh Mi Queen in Hoi An (better than other places)
- Cao Lao (only in Hoi An)**
- Pho (everywhere)
- Corn wine (north of Hanoi, in the mountains)
- Egg coffee (everywhere) — so good!! Like an eggnog coffee, but way better;
- Coconut coffee (Hanoi) — you must try it at Cong Caphe (absolutely the best!)
- 4 P’s (Hanoi & various other locations) — Our favorite restaurant (whilst craving western food). It’s a pizza joint; very fancy, but in American dollars the place is still pretty afforable — definitely closer to American prices though, if you don’t mind that.
- **Every city has their own specialty dish, like Cao Lao
More tips (wee!):
- Favorite city was Hanoi — less pollution, most to do & eat (that we found).
- Money: Vietnam is fairly inexpensive so stretching your dollar is a pretty easy task. Meals range from $1-$3 or so, and hostels anywhere from a couple bucks to $20 range, depending on room and how crowded it is.
- Rent a motorcycle, if you’re comfortable. Everyone gets in minor crashes so be careful & be smart. People are ... crazy when it comes to driving, so just be cautious. There’s really no rules— people drive on the right, on the left, on the sidewalk; pretty much anywhere and at any speed so just take it slow & be careful of those sleeper buses. Don't cut corners or try to be cheeky.
- Sleeper bus: we took a bunch. You have to take your shoes off inside so be prepared. Try and get a seat on the side or in the back, bottom. The buses tend to be pretty full and sometimes (most times) the drivers don't let you choose your seat, so if you’re at a hostel or something mention which seat you want and sometimes they can help you prior to your departure. If a hostel or travel agency offers you a price like 500, say no (unless you want to pay that). We usually got tickets ~200 or so, and they’re everywhere so don't be afraid to say no and walk away because there will be plenty of opportunity. But definitely do shopping around (for whatever) — it’s best not to settle on the first thing you find anyway.
- Haggling: Locals can be (are) pretty aggressive. But be nice (not too nice) and just say no. A good mixture of politeness and firmness are key. Don’t offer your hands or feet to anyone who’s trying to sell you bracelets or clean your shoes because you'll quickly find yourself in a situation you probably don't want to be in. It happens pretty quickly so just be aware.
- Keep small Dong on your body in case you’re at a market or shopping because you don’t want to have to pull out your whole wallet, revealing all you've got to the world. Vendors will stand over you and it's not guaranteed that they'll give you change if you're confused about the currency exchange. Basically, be smart.
- Restaurant waiters/waitresses... they tend to stand over you and around you. This tends to make you feel “watched over” in a derogatory way. That’s normal, unfortunately; but it's just the culture and not a personal thing — I truly believe they're trying to be proactive in their accommodations, but it translates poorly.
- Be wary with brushing your teeth with tap water and drinking crushed ice. Only eat fruits with a peel — general rule for foreign countries*